The idea of paying respect was new to them, they said as we chatted while we watched the gathering crowd. They had heard of this event before, but admitted they had never really paid much attention to it. As the ceremony unfolded I would occasionally glance in their direction to see a face staring in rapt attention at the ongoing ritual, eyes darting to the program in order to dutifully follow along when we would we welcomed to join the choir in song.
"What happens now", I was asked when the ceremony seemed to conclude. "Now we have the third parade", I said. "We saw the 'parade' of officials laying their wreaths and paying their respects, we're seeing the bands and branches of service parading past us now, and when they finish we all go down to the Cenotaph, to walk past and pay our individual respects. One of the ways we do this is to lay our red poppies on one of the wreaths that has personal meaning to us."
We watched parents reading aloud to their young children, in answer to curious little fingers pointing at one wreath or another; we watched teenage couples, men and women old and young circle around, then stop, and think, before depositing their poppies and moving on. One younger gentleman got down on bended knee, shut his eyes for a long moment before adding a red poppy to the growing number gathering around a particular memorial wreath in honor of recent sacrifice in Afghanistan. Almost on signal, the clouds let loose a brief sizzle of rain they had kept in abeyance throughout the morning, to mix with our tears.
What do you think of all this, I asked my young charge on our way out.
"Thanks for inviting me", came an uncharacteristically soft-spoken answer, and as I write this it occurs to me to add that this was the first time I had ever heard them say thank you for anything. The eyes looked into mine, then drifted up and away to someplace else, someplace within. "This was important for me to see. I'm gonna remember it."
And so should we all.
They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We will remember them.
We Will Remember Them.